Cheney = War Criminal?

There is an interesting article from the BBC detailing allegations from Col. Lawrence Wilkerson that Dick Cheney pushed the abuse of terror suspects as part of the ongoing War on Terror. A more interesting comment from Col. Wilkerson is that Cheney’s actions might be both a domestic crime and an international crime. Although there has been plenty of claims that the Bush administration should be held accountable for their actions in Iraq, the accusations of prisoner abuse and the “secret” prisons provides an interesting new angle. It is also worthy to note that Col. Lawrence, until this past Spring, served in the Bush State Department.

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  • Here’s what I love about this whole debate about Geneva III. It was designed after World War II to reflect a world of states in conflict with one another. That’s why it contains certain requirements for protection under its terms, such as open display of arms and uniforms with insignia. The idea was to encourage compliance with the rules of war, avoid civilians, etc.

    In the 1970s, international legal scholars became concerned that the treaty only included two groups: prisoners of war and civilians. Anyone who didn’t fit the definitions of either group, such as unrecognized militias, wouldn’t be protected. So they drew up Protocols I and II to the convention. Just about every country in the world has signed onto them, with the exception of about seven countries, one of which is the U.S. Reagan declined to sign the Protocols because he feared they would provide protections to terrorists who do not abide by the rules of war.

    Fastforward two decades. The US invaded Afghanistan and captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who were not in compliance with Geneva III. Unsure what to do with them, the Defense Department sought legal advice from the Office of Legal Counsel. John Yoo and Robert Delahunty put together a memo concluding (correctly) that Geneva III, by itself, does not provide protections to Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters and that they therefore could legally be kept at Guantanamo Bay.

    All of a sudden, scholars on the Left believe that somehow Geneva III, despite its unambiguous language to the contrary, does apply to al Qaeda and Taliban fighters even though two and a half decades ago, the settled conclusion in the international community was that it did not. And now people like Mr. Walkom are suggesting that Dick Cheney should be tried for war crimes for supporting a correct legal position? I opposed the war just as much as the next guy, but come on. We shouldn’t be tossing around terms like “war crime” simply because we disagree with a political decision when there is simply no legal ground for it. It’s irresponsible and belittles actual war crimes.

    And let’s get that side of the coin straight while we’re at it. The debate going on in the administration was not whether or not the US military could get away with torturing prisoners in case they got bored. The issue was the detention of captured combatants, i.e., whether or not they could be detained at Gitmo, whether they could be interrogated, whether the US would be required to repatriate them at the cessation of hostilities. It is a given that torture is illegal as a matter of international law under both treaty law and jus cogens norms. While I do wish the administration would get a move on in trying some of these detainees, I do not for a second pretend that the result of sending these people back to Afghanistan would be anything short of disaster for everyone involved. Twisting the legitimate issue of detention into an advocacy of torture is simply irresponsible. And while some of Mr. Cheney’s recent remarks on that issue probably don’t help matters (they make me cringe, to be quite honest), his advice to Bush during the war was not criminal (or wrong) in any way, shape or form.

  • Brett Clark? Is that you? Howdy.

    You make many interesting points, however, let’s ignore for a moment the debate about enemy combatants, Gitmo and other complicated issues and examine this.

    Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the CIA __is__ operating secret prisons in places like Eastern Europe. Let’s pretend that they were approved or at least not stopped, despite knowledge of their existence, by high levels in the Bush administration.

    Does this violate law?

    Is this a war crime?

    Thanks for the reasoned response. 🙂


  • Hey Jason,

    Yep, it’s me. How’s life? Diggin’ the blog.

    Sure. The secret prisons story is an entirely different issue. I’d be fully willing to grant that. It’s going to be interesting to see how that whole issue plays out, too. I know Italy is seeking the extradition of a few CIA agents for kidnapping alleged terror suspects without the Italian government’s knowledge. I think it’s safe to say that similar actions and the operation of secret prisons would offend international law.

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